The RJ Center responds to campus conflicts and harm with restorative conferences, peacebuilding circles, support circles, and healing circles. Here are some of the cases we’ve facilitated over the past year:
A UC campus experienced a campus climate harm event that provoked widespread protest, anger and frustration across divided communities. Members of an athletic team posted an offensive photo where they dressed up in outfits that represented an ethnic group in a derogatory way. Students from that ethnic group were already overwhelmed and traumatized by a series of other statements and events that inappropriately referenced, disrespected and criminalized their community. They were especially incensed by what they viewed as a lack of responsiveness from the campus administration. While campus administrators had responded with condemnations of the actions of the athletic team, as well as ideas for future change, their limited actions had left both traumatized community and members of the athletic team feeling betrayed.
One campus unit called for a Restorative Justice process and invited the UC Berkeley RJ Center to facilitate. Over a two-week period, two facilitators from the RJC worked to engage students on both sides of the conflict in a series of preparation meetings/circles that culminated in a Peacebuilding Circle, which occurred one week before the end of classes. The Peacebuilding Circle was comprised of 18 students, two campus counselors and one representative of the administrative unit that had called for the circle. Through the highly structured circle process, students from the athletic team were given the opportunity to take accountability and apologize, and students from the harmed community articulated the impacts of the series of campus events and called upon their peers to learn more about their community and the politics of ethnic difference on campus and in the broader society. While the participants of the circle did not come away as friends, they did see each other anew, not as fierce enemies out to punish the other, but rather as fellow students who really knew very little about each other because of campus segregation.
This singular Peacebuilding Circle was a small step in the process of making this campus a safer and more respectful space for all students. The participants in the circle developed a list of next steps for the team members, the athletic department and the university to make changes on campus that would reduce the likelihood of repeated offenses in the upcoming year. It was then up to students, staff and administrators to come together to realize the plan.
A house planned a party and people signed up to be DJs. At a certain point, the party seemed to die down and the acting DJ (M) was blamed. A house member (O) who had not signed up to DJ demanded to take over. A shouting match ensued with what were perceived as threats of physical violence. Friends of M made a complaint against O, who had other complaints already filed against him. As a result, although the conflict was not hugely significant, the outcome could be harsh for O–he would probably be expelled from the house. O and other members of the house felt that O was targeted because of his ethnicity as African American. He was one of two African American residents of the house.
Several student leaders from the RJ Center took up the case, talking with house members, and engaging M and O in pre-meetings. On a Saturday morning, M and O met with two RJ facilitators for a restorative conference. Despite what they said in the pre-meetings, both M and O had a difficult time communicating. Eventually, O expressed an apology and M expressed a willingness to make peace. Both also agreed that the house would need to take further action to address racial hostilities. However, a case against O was already making its way through the official discipline process. While M and O reconciled, O was eventually expelled from the house.
Community Healing after Sexual Assault
A member of a community (J) reported an assault by another member (N). J moved out, and the case was dropped for lack of evidence. But within the community, gossip and rumors continued to circulate. A group of people who identified as survivors began to push for some kind of action in the community to hold N accountable. Community leaders were protective of N and also did not have the skills to facilitate a process. As the leaders hesitated to act over several weeks, the community edged into a crisis of fear, recrimination and trauma.
The RJ Center was called in, because trust had already been built through community building circles months earlier. RJC staff set up a pre-meeting with the accused person and community leaders, and the group of survivors. Without violating confidentiality with details, it was determined that people on all sides were ready to talk it out together. A peacebuilding circle allowed people to have their say, to reconcile, and to develop a comprehensive plan for the community to encourage open, respectful dialog about difficult topics and address trauma.